Our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them…you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing.
(Nehemiah 9:16-17, 19-21)
I was just flipping through my bible the other day when I came across this. It struck me that the story of God and His people is an eternal story. Even though this is talking about the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert, I read it and know that it is talking about me.
This phrase “stiffened their neck” comes from the Hebrew word qashah which literally means to be stubborn, but I can’t help contrasting it with the Hebrew word t’shuvah which is usually translated “repent” but literally means to turn. If a person’s neck is stiff then it will not turn. I think what is being said of these people is that they will not turn (or repent) from their old ways. They have stiffened their neck and refuse to change.
It goes on to say that they were not mindful of the wonders that [He had] performed among them, but they stiffened their neck [and even] appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. This is me. So often I seem to forget about the wondrous sacrifice God gave for me. The miracle He will work in my life if I will let Him, if I will loosen my neck and t’shuvah. It says that although they had been set free they appointed a leader to lead them back to their slavery. I do this. I have been freed from my sins by the blood of Christ, but always seem to take my life back into my own hands and return to slavery.
They were led out of slavery by God, through Moses and Aaron. As is says in Psalm 77, Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron, but they soon grew tired of this nonsensical plan of walking through seas and deserts. They did not see God’s footprints in it. It made no sense to them. So they chose another leader and decided to return to their slavery.
Sometimes God’s ways don’t make sense to me. There are times that if someone asked me, “Hey Drew, what’s God been doing in your life lately?” That I might simply reply with “Oh, nothing really.” That answer is false. God is always working in my life, I just might not be paying attention. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t seen His footprints.
I am so thankful that God is a god who forgives. A god who extends grace and mercy. His love is unwaivering and constant. He does not abandon me when I have a stiff neck. Instead He is constantly calling me back. He is always wooing me with His love. He does not forsake me. His mercies are with me by day and by night. His Spirit instructs me. He is bread and water to me. He sustains me even when I am in the wilderness with a stiff neck. Because of Him I lack nothing.
Have mercy on me, O god,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1-2)